“Life comes at you fast” is an adage that has certainly proven true for Toronto singer-songwriter Dylan Sinclair. In the last six years, he’s gone from fledgling high school slam poet to one of Canada’s most promising R&B stars, racking up millions of streams, glowing critical acclaim, and a JUNO nomination for his 2020 effort, Proverb. The accolades were welcome — but also set an impossibly high standard, as the songster set out to write his follow-up.

“I felt a bit of pressure,” says Sinclair of his fast success. “But I think people tend to fall under pressure when they focus on it too much. I’m focused on growing as a person, and as an artist, and on being as consistent as I can be without killing myself over it. I’m not gonna drown in the pressure.”

That determined attitude underpinned Sinclair’s approach to the writing on No Longer in the Suburbs, the amorous, pensive effort that finds the 21-year-old grappling with everything from his newfound fame to burgeoning adulthood, and complicated relationships. Compared to his peers, Sinclair’s sound on Suburbs is markedly nostalgic, bringing to mind such veterans as Jon B and Musiq Soulchild. Sinclair says that’s due to the soundtrack he played during the writing process.

“I was listening to a lot of R&B from the kings, Usher and Chris Brown, non-stop,” says the Filipino-Guyanese crooner. “I listened to albums like Confessions and women’s groups like 702 and SWV. All of the feel-good, Black romance music.” The influences shine through heavily, especially on tracks like the pleading, affectionate “Open,”, or on “Suppress” – where a clear-eyed Sinclair reflects on his romantic relationship with the self-awareness of a young Donell Jones.

Beyond the very obvious old-school thread in Suburbs are other ingredients that distinguish Sinclair from his peers, among them a sincere and consistent tenderness that he credits to his church beginnings. Regardless of the lyrical subject matter, there’s something uniquely mellow and soft-hearted about Sinclair’s approach to this album, a holdover from the praise and worship sessions he fondly remembers form childhood.

“I want to build a world that brings people peace. The goal is to make beautiful music, and the church is filled with beautiful music and singing,” says Sinclair. “I never really gravitated toward [more aggressive] music because I came from a space where there were singalongs, and harmonizing, and real instruments. The [Gospel] influence just creeps into my music somehow, I don’t consciously do it. I do whatever feels good, instinctually. I automatically do my three-part harmonies because that’s what we did at our worship sessions at home. And the melodies I choose are about singing together. It’s so much more beautiful that way.”

“I want to build a world that brings people peace. The goal is to make beautiful music.”

A solid team of collaborators was also a requirement for Sinclair’s process on Suburbs, and his teammates are more than just industry colleagues — they’re his actual friends. “Jordon Manswell, he’s my right-hand guy,” Sinclair says, referring to the Grammy-nominated producer whose credits include Proverb, Daniel Caesar, and Mariah Carey. Musician and producer Alex Ernewein (Caesar, Charlotte Day Wilson) also gets a shout-out, as does Zachary Simmonds, a producer and close friend who happens to be Caesar’s younger brother.

The friendship — and musical partnership — between Sinclair and Simmonds dates back to before either person was born (four days apart at that). Their fathers, Kevin Sinclair and Norwill Simmonds, released a Gospel album back in the early aughts, and the two families have continued to bond in the decades that followed. Now, their children are picking up where the two patriarchs left off.

“Zach and I are the same age. He’s the producer, I’m the songwriter. This has been our story; our come-up together,” says Sinclair. That journey includes making music, of course, but also ample hangouts, and frequent trips out of town for a change of scenery. While they worked on Suburbs, the crew went everywhere from Fort Erie to Montréal, with the aim of getting out and seeing the world. The goal was to live life, then bring those experiences back to the studio to recount them in song. The trips also gave Sinclair a break from the pressures of mounting fame.

“It really is a group effort, and it’s more fun that way. I’ve locked myself in my room to try to work, and it’s not fun. [I need] that work-life balance,” says Sinclair. “I think a lot of people kinda hibernate in the studio and search for anything for inspiration. The music loses its substance. My focus is on making sure we’re living, and doing things, so that the music feels full, and like it’s coming from a real place.”

That same authenticity was important when choosing features for the album. On the deluxe version of Suburbs, hot up-and-comers like Destin Conrad, Jvck James, and Joyce Wrice make appearances; all artists of whom Sinclair was a proper fan, before he could even fathom the collaborations. He says that such full-circle moments – like the transition from listening to Wrice in high school to singing alongside her on the slow jam “Never” – are what keep him inspired.

“My inspiration [fades] quickly,” says Sinclair. “When it comes back, it’s usually from a full-circle moment ­­­– like watching the JUNOs and the next thing you know I get a nod. Same thing with Joyce and working with her. That was a very big moment for me! That makes me want to go back in the studio and work so much more.”



Growing up in a one-stoplight town, Sacha’s love of country music – and rural life – was natural.  

“That tends to rub off on you,” she says of her upbringing in Warkworth, Ontario, a quaint village in the rolling hills of Northumberland, 90 minutes East of Toronto. 

We catch up with the rising Canadian country star via Zoom, on a Monday afternoon. She’s on a high following an industry showcase at Toronto’s El Mocambo (where her parents’ band The Arguments once gigged) the night before. A framed Gold record for the single “What the Truck,” a million-plays-plus viral hit she co-wrote with The Reklaws (more on that later), hangs on a wall nearby. Albums by some of her influences – Loretta Lynn’s Van Lear Rose and Stevie Nicks’s Bella Donna – hang on another.  

Besides these legendary artists, Patsy Cline was one of Sacha’s earliest influences. “My mother played her records all the time,” she says. “Her voice was the first one that left an impression on me… just her soul, and the way she makes you feel when you hear her on the other end of the speaker.”  

Since Sacha’s parents played in a band, during her childhood every instrument imaginable was available to pick up and try. Musicians constantly stopped by to rehearse. And often, impromptu backyard gigs happened around the bonfire. This was all part of her informal musical education. 

“We had this old, beat-up upright piano with missing keys,” Sacha recalls. “That was my first instrument. I just learned how to play on my own, reading notes and singing songs.” 

Later, the songs, stories, and especially Taylor Swift’s journey to pop stardom, inspired the musician. If Swift could find success in Nashville by approaching potential leads until one listened, maybe that same approach might work for her.  

“I read Taylor’s diaries [that] she shared, and learned how, early in her career, she went to Nashville and hustled, by knocking on doors up and down Music Row,” Sacha says. “I said, ‘I’m going to do the same thing!’”  

During Sacha’s first visit to Music City, the artist visited many of the same places Swift had, decades ago. “I gave my card and my demo EP to everyone: record labels, PR firms, and songwriter associations,” she says. “Not a lot of doors opened that first time, but I started co-writing.” 

“I just chased my dream really hard” 

Sacha kept returning. Each time, another door opened. She set up songwriter’s showcases, and played throughout the city at locales like Opry Mills, The Hotel Indigo, and The Bluebird Cafe. This hard work and perseverance eventually paid dividends.  

Fast forward to 2021, when Sacha joined the Reklaws for their viral TikTok hit, “What the Truck.” The song had more than 450,000 streams in its first week alone, eventually becoming the Canadian country song in history that was the fastest to reach a million domestic streams. 

“That was hilarious!” recalls Sacha of this happy accident. “I was just sitting at home scrolling through TikTok and saw the Reklaws had posted a sample of ‘What the Truck.’ I watched others jump on and do a duet. I was writing something at the time that I felt might fit. I almost didn’t do it, but I jumped on and did my part. I turned around to wash the dishes and before I knew it I got a DM from Jenna [Walker, of The Reklaws] asking me to be a part of the song.”  

In 2022, Sacha kept the momentum going. She released a four-song EP (We Did) – her second after The Best Thing in 2020 – that showcased her growing maturation as a songwriter and country-pop singer. A few more of 2022’s highlights include meeting Carrie Underwood backstage at the CMT Music Awards; winning her first CCMA Award and SiriusXM’s Top of the Country Competition; and touring with Maddie and Tae on the CMT Next Women of Country Tour. Of all these experiences, the biggest thrill was standing in Times Square, looking skyward, and seeing her video premiere for “Pretty Please.”  

“I remember going to New York City on New Year’s Eve in 2012,” Sacha recalls. “I was out of a job and thinking, ‘How am I going to get from A to Z?’ That’s when I really picked up a guitar and started writing seriously. I figured I had a runway to go after my dreams. Those first songs written in my bedroom became my debut EP.” 

That EP (Stix N Stones) led to an international fan base, thanks to the title track – an anti-bullying anthem that became a viral hit. 

“I just chased my dream really hard,” Sacha adds. “It was all sparked from that New Year’s 10 years ago, looking up at the lights, and thinking, how on earth would I ever get on one of those billboards? Fast forward to May 2022 and there I was… it’s a testament to never giving up on your dreams.”   

In the Fall of 2022, Sacha achieved another dream by teaming up with Jade Eagleson – the 2022 CCMA Award winner for Top Selling Canadian Album – on “Call it Country,” a song written by Allison Veltz, Seth Mosley, and Brooke Eden.  

These days, Sacha divides her time between Ontario and Nashville. With a pair of country EPs to her credit, there’s much more to come. She writes constantly, and is ready to share more new songs and what she teases as some “fun collabs” in 2023. 

“I’m working to get a collection of songs together that best share my story,” she says, “and every facet of what I’m capable of as an artist.”

 



As the year comes to a close, Lionel Kizaba will go on his holiday break with a sense of accomplishment. “This year has really been the best year of my life,” he enthuses, pointing out the 30-odd concerts he’s performed, in Québec and elsewhere in the world, over the past 12 months, as well as the Nov. 18, 2022, release of Kizavibe, his new electronic Afropop album — co-written and co-produced with his partner in crime, Gone Deville. 

For the singer-songwriter and drummer from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), 2022 ended as it had more or less begun: with an invitation to the Mundial Montréal/M for Montréal Festival. He explained where the starting line of this creative cycle was: “The Mundial concert in 2021 set the table for the year to come, which I ended with a big concert at the Society for Arts and Technology [SAT] for the album launch,” as an after-party for M for Montréal. 

 “The festival director, Sébastien Nasra, had seen my concert at Mundial, and he said to me, ‘I thought you played African music, but it’s pop!’,” hence the invitation to the following year’s edition of M for Montréal. The director’s observation illustrates just how far pop music from the African continent has come in recent years, by shedding the divisive and outdated “world music” label, and finally being recognized for what it is: damn good, danceable, modern pop that deserves its spot on the world’s biggest stages, as Nigeria’s Burna Boy did last summer at Osheaga, or as fellow Nigerian Wizkid will do on March 18, 2023, at Bell Center. 

Kizaba wades in those very waters, cooking up a stew of pop, rap, and danceable electronic music, spiced with rhythms of his native Congo, chiefly soukous and rumba. “I put a lot of work into this,” says Kizaba. “I wanted to take the Congolese sound to another level by combining it with other musical styles. I wanted to offer diversified musical influences, because I don’t want only Congolese people to attend my shows, I want everyone to attend, all of Québec, the whole world. What I’m proposing is the whole universe!” 

That universe begins in Montréal — literally: it’s the title of the Kizavibe’s sweet opening song, a love letter to his city, he says, “to the vibe here, to the artists I’ve met here, like brother Pierre Kwenders,” a Congolese at heart, also featured on the dancehall duet “Bella”. “Of all the cities I’ve visited, I say Montréal is the best — it has the best vibe, there’s so much music to discover, it has an incredible togetherness. I needed to pay tribute to all that.”  

Kizaba created his 2017 debut album entirely on his own. “For this one, I really wanted to be able to rely on a second pair of ears.” he says. A friend put him in touch with composer and DJ Gone Deville (Pierre Belliveau), who was looking for a percussionist to accompany him at an event he was organizing. They clicked right away. “Pierre told me, ‘Lionel, I’m not letting go of you, I’ll follow you anywhere you go!’ He let me hear some beats he was working on, I chose a few more from his bank and that was the basis of the album,” recorded in Montréal and partly in DRC. 

 Gone Deville is also the technical director for Kizaba’s concerts, and they spent 2022 playing in many different time zones: “After my concert at Mundial Montréal, I was invited to play in a lot of big concerts — in the United States as an opening act for Lionel Richie, we toured Louisiana, Great Britain, Italy, British Columbia. . .” The coming year will also be bookings-rich with the tour resuming on January 12, 2023, including a presence at this year’s edition of the prestigious WOMAD festival in April in Chile.